If you think true romance is harder to find now than in the past, perhaps you didn’t live through the pre-Internet days of yore. While some people genuinely had great dating experiences in that era, ones that led in short order to love, union, and happily ever after, for the rest of us the adult dating game prior to 1990 or so meant, in no particular order:
- Constantly asking friends and family to introduce us to someone we might like
- Joining uninteresting clubs in hopes that someone special might appear
- Hanging out at bars and parties while feeling wildly insecure
- Sitting through less than stimulating church groups, thereby relying on God’s will to find a mate
- Flirting with coworkers despite all the usual advice to not do so
- Smiling at people while jogging on the gym treadmill and hoping to not fall over
Basically, one’s options were limited to people met through friends, family, work, and social organizations. And if those options didn’t pan out you could hire a matchmaker or place a personal ad in the back pages of your local newspaper. Beyond that, you were pretty much out of luck.
Today, while the basics of getting along with someone you have met remain the same, the process of finding a potential mate is truly different. Digital technology is literally littered with dating websites and smartphone “friend finder’ apps, not to mention text and video chat-rooms. Almost anyone, anywhere, can log on, post a profile, find your profile, and contact you. In other words, the backyard dating pond of yesteryear has digitally evolved into an ocean, and there’s a whole lot of fish in that ocean. While the process of finding a romantic partner can still be daunting, time-consuming, and even at times discouraging, there are a lot of ways to make the process more enjoyable and more likely to result in a desired outcome.
If you’re truly looking for a long-term relationship, that’s great. If so, think about posting a profile on dating websites geared toward finding Mr. or Ms. Right, like eHarmony or Match.com. If you’re Jewish and only interested in meeting other Jewish people, consider a site like JDate. If you’re African American and interested in other African Americans, try a site like BlackPeopleMeet.com. If you’re gay or lesbian, go to sites like Adam4Adam and PinkCupid. These and many other sites are all geared, at least in part, toward the development of long-term relationships.
If you’re seeking something shorter in duration—like a one-night-stand, for instance—you’ll experience no judgment here. Just know what you want, protect yourself, and make sure you aren’t hoping against hope that that your casual hookup will turn into something more, as this is highly unlikely to occur. You may want to try a “smartphone dating,” as, generally speaking, smartphone apps are geared more toward hooking up than serious dating (though many people do successfully seek out long-term relationships using apps). Again, pick the app that is best for you: Skout, Blendr, and Tinder for single heterosexuals; Ashley Madison for married people hoping to cheat; Grindr, PinkCupid, and the like for gays and lesbians. (Many dating websites have a corresponding app, and vice versa.)
The number one tip for dating/mating success is to be honest in your online interactions. There are two main things about which the absolute truth is required:
- Who you are—gender, race, age (within a few years), body size (within a few pounds), etc.
- What you are looking for—romance or marriage or dating or sex, etc.
This honesty process starts with a realistic self-examination. One very useful idea is to write down the qualities that you think best define you and those you truly seek in a mate, then run that list by a trusted friend or family member. Their honest feedback can help you catch the good qualities you may miss noting about yourself, or that you may be seeking in others. The really good news is that by knowing what you have to offer and what you’re looking for you’ve completed the hardest part of the battle. Once you start the process of accepting yourself as you are, letting others in on that, and looking realistically at what you’d like from a potential partner, you are on the road toward finding love. Yes, you likely will lose quite a bit of time chatting with people both online and in person—and you’ll probably kiss a frog or two along the way—but eventually, if you are honest and persistent, you are likely to find a suitable match.
When posting your profile, make sure you make both your vital statistics and your intentions known to those who may view the site. Don’t try to pass yourself off as 30 when you’re 50, and don’t pretend you’re a surgeon when you actually work in a convenience store. If you post a photo—and you’ll get a lot more action if you do—make sure it’s a recent, un-retouched image that actually looks like you. If you’re not seeking a one-night stand, a face pic will do, body not required. Most of all, DO NOT say you’re looking for a lifetime partner if all you want is sex. That is very uncool. Remember: posting a dishonest profile may lure someone in, but eventually that person is going to find out what you really look like, do for a living, and want from a partner. Telling the truth about these things up-front will save you and the people you interact with a lot of time and heartache later on.
When you search through other people’s profiles looking for potential dates, use your prior assessment about what you’re attracted to in another person as a guide. Most dating websites and apps allow you to search in very specific ways—age range, type of relationship sought, physical characteristics, smokers vs. nonsmokers, drinking and drug use, location, level of education, hobbies, religious affiliation, etc. The best approach is picking the three to five criteria that are most important to you and searching for people who meet these benchmarks. After you eliminate the people with whom you have little to nothing in common, you can look at the remaining pictures and videos to see who’s attractive.
Searching for a partner can be difficult, even with digital assistance. But if finding a mate is important to you, don't give up just because you’ve hit a few roadblocks. Research shows that finding a significant other is often a matter of numbers. Studies typically suggest that a single man or woman who is truly working to find a long-term partner may have to go on as many as 15 to 25 new dates per year! Unfortunately, many people just plain give up long before they reach that number. The simple fact is if you truly want to find a spouse or long-term partner you need to date—a lot—without being unduly tied to the outcome of any one situation. Most of the people you meet (both online and in the digital world) are not going to be right for you. That’s perfectly OK. You just need to keep dating until a reasonable match shows up.
The second part of being persistent is not getting down on yourself. Many people have a few dates or a few months of dates that don’t go well and then “decide” they are too fat, too unattractive, too poor, too uneducated, too old, or too whatever else it is they feel insecure about. The first few people they meet don’t seem interested, so they erroneously conclude that everyone else will feel the same way. This belief is not true! In reality, there is a lid for every pot. It doesn’t matter if you feel unattractive and that your last date apparently agreed with this assessment, because there is most definitely someone out there who will take one look at you and swoon. Don’t cheat that person, or yourself, out of that experience just because your last few dates wilted your self-esteem.
This last chunk of advice—safety first—is the most important, as there are at least a few nefarious people searching for potential victims on dating websites and hookup apps. As it is in real life, these folks are only a small minority of the digital population, but they do exist, and if you’re going to date online you need to be aware of this and take some basic precautions. Let’s face it, with only a few short paragraphs and some photos to go on, it is easy to indulge in extensive fantasy about a person met online. This is what digital predators rely on!
Some online scammers, after getting a person to “fall for them,” prey on that individual’s emotions and natural desire to “help a loved one” by asking for money to pay for emergency medical expenses, education, a plane ticket so he/she can fly to your city to meet you face-to-face, etc. Other online bad guys are simply sexual predators looking for vulnerable women (or men) to assault sexually. Still others may request of you an impulsively sexted photo, only to later use it against you.
The good news is that the vast majority of people you find online are sincere in their desire to meet a long-term partner, casual sex partner, or friend. So, provided you take some simple steps to protect yourself, meeting an online acquaintance IRL (in real life) is no more dangerous than dating a person you meet some other way. A few basic precautions to take include:
- Meet in a public place. Even if your goal is a quick hookup, your first meeting should take place at a coffee shop, museum, café, mall, or some other public venue. This allows you time to get to know a person and ferret out any red flags before agreeing to meet in a more private setting.
- Tell your friends/family what you’re doing. Make sure at least one friend or family member knows who you are meeting, where, and when. Arrange to check in with that person at least once during your date. You might even want to have some friends hanging out wherever it is you’ve decided to meet, discreetly keeping an eye on things from across the room.
- Pay your own way. If the other person wants money or gifts from you—or wants to shower you with money or gifts—walk away. That person does not love you or even care about you. Sex/love in exchange for money/gifts is not romance, it’s prostitution. If you’re unsure about a person’s sincerity, ask a trusted friend or family member what they think before you move forward.
- Dress appropriately. If you’re seeking long-term romance, leave the sexy outfit in your closet. Yes, you want to make sure the other person finds you attractive, but sending an overly sexual message may scare a serious suitor away, as he/she might think you are only interested in a hookup. Of course, if you’re meeting solely for sex, feel free to display your assets.
- Trust your instincts. This is the most important safety tip of all. If a situation doesn’t feel right to you for any reason at all, get out. You are under no obligation to continue a date. Ever. Maybe the issue is something innocuous, maybe not. Either way, if the situation feels uncomfortable, then the other person is not what you’re looking for.
As long as you are honest (with yourself and others) about who you are and what you are seeking, and use common sense about when, where, and how you will meet someone IRL, you can safely enjoy the endless options offered by digital romance. Whatever you want, it is out there, be it a long-term relationship, causal dating, or just a quick hookup. You just need to get started.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is the author of Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men, and co-author with Dr. Jennifer Schneider of both Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn, and Fantasy Obsession in the Internet Ageand the upcoming 2013 release, Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Sex, Intimacy and Relationships. He has served as a media specialist for CNN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Today Show, among many others.